Easy Living (Orso Miyawaka, Peter Miyawaka, 2019): Italy

Reviewed by Kimberli Wong at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2020

This is Elvis.  Elvis is an immigrant attempting to cross the border between Italy and France, to get to Paris to reunite with his pregnant wife.  Elvis is cool.  As the filmmaker brothers Orso and Peter Miyawaka say, “Nobody is cooler than Elvis.”  Everyone wants to be friends with Elvis.

Which is the catalyst that prompts three people united by chance to try and help him illegally cross the Italian-French border.  These three are:  a medication-smuggling young woman (Camilla), her younger brother her presumed other brother dumped on her last minute to babysit (Brando), and a loser-lost-funny as hell American expat tennis teacher (Don).

The desire Peter and Orso Miyawaka had was to portray immigrants in a different light than they had previously seen in film, in their own words, as everyday people “you or I would be friends with.”  This mirrors their own personal experience growing up along the French-Italian border.  Being there in the 90s, there was an ease at the border, with no military or police patrol, no barricade to stop people from just walking across it.  “Immigrant” wasn’t really a politicized label in that region.  With the changing political climate in the 2000s, suddenly “being an immigrant” became a thing, and along with all the negative stereotypes came stricter borders and more difficult crossings.

Brando, played by James Miyawaka, looks up to and befriends Elvis, and it is his urging that convinces his sister and the tennis teacher they meet, Don, to help Elvis cross the border.  In fact, the immigrant story is primarily told through his lens.  This is particularly effective because Brando is young, he is innocent, and we see Elvis through this innocence—not as an “immigrant,” not as his race, but as the filmmakers intended, a cool older guy that Brando admires.  We can all relate to that feeling, we all had that one person when we were young who just seemed to be… cool.  Elvis is this person for Brando.  When Brando must stay behind while the three others attempt to smuggle Elvis across the border, we feel his worry, his utter concern, not through the lens of politics but through pure humanity.

Manoel Hudec gives a hilarious and nuanced performance as the American expat tennis teacher, Don.  On the surface, Don is epitome of American asinine—try-too-hard charming, bumbling goofiness, well-intentioned cluelessness.  An aspiring painter, he paints by night and sleeps with his tennis clientele by day.  As the story progresses, we learn his journey has not been without hardship, though as he puts it, when difficulty came he ran away, but “to his parents’ beach house.”  His life, as he sees it, has been “easy living” compared to someone like Elvis, yet his pain is palpable, and for that it not to be discounted, either.

Easy Living is an entertaining and heartfelt film, telling one speck of the immigrant story in a charming, humorous, and original light.  There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, the timing of the film is brilliant, and there is a surprising depth to such a simple yet relevant story.

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